How to Write Email Subject Lines So Your E-Newsletters Will Be Read

woman-reading-emailsThe average American sees over 3000 advertisements in a day, 147 emails, and deletes 71 of those emails in just 5 minutes. When marketing by email, your subject line is your first and only defense against your newsletter being chucked in the trashbin, marked as spam, or your recipient unsubscribing.

In a Forbes article, Chief Marketing Office of Xerox Christa Carone found that changing the subject lines on their email campaign to a personalized statement upped their open rate 40%, well above industry average.

So what are the components of an effective subject header, and how can you use it?


A study by MarketingSherpa Blog found that personalized subject headings had a 5% higher open rate and a 17% higher click-through rate than those that weren’t personalized. Use your marketing software to discover what your audience cares about. Using the recipients’ names did not increase open rates, but a town or city, or a cause that mattered to them, did.


Both your emails and subject headers should have a realistic sense of urgency. However, customers are savvy and suspicious of advertising, and will delete any email that sounds disingenuous, desperate, or simply untrue.

Ask yourself if your email’s subject reflect up-to-date information. Your company can come off out-of-touch if you’re still banging on about an issue that is past, but breaking news feels like your company is listening to the public.


Does the email provide information the recipients can use? Consider occasionally including promotional codes, contests, or other goodies as an incentive to those who sign up to your mailing list. Tips and news on related issues are a good way to have a reason to send an email — you should be talking to your readers about things other than just to promote your new project.

Ineffective subject lines are those that felt fake, too long, or gave off a bad connotation.


A study of 5 million emails by Boomerang for Google found that subject lines containing synonyms for ‘help’ reduced open rates; other studies have confirmed that readers are suspicious of emails that request money or assistance up front.

Non-profits, your issue may be deserving of all the help it requests, but think of the subject line as the greeting. When you first meet someone, do you say, “Hello, I work for a non-profit, give me money”? A better subject line to an email asking for help is to entice the reader to become interested in the topic, segue to a call to action, and then explain how to help or donate with a graphical link in the body of the email.

Creativity vs. Clarity

MarketingSherpa Blog also published findings that subject headings that were so creative that they obscured the point of the email were not successful. In a creativity versus clarity study, clear, short, subject lines were opened 541% more than creative, short subject lines.


Repeated tests have shown that the optimum subject line length is 15-35 characters, including spaces; the shorter the better. The average working adult receives over 100 emails a day, and your recipients take only a few seconds to scan the subject so they may deduce the point of your email quickly. Be brief and to the point.

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